At every point in the history of the United States there have been people whose faith has provided the bedrock for lifelong efforts to end violence, oppression, and inequity—Dorothy Day, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Bishop Gene Robinson—and there have been others who have used their religion as a weapon to further these same forces; to maintain the oppressive status quo rather than challenge it.
In moments of great political and social upheaval, people of faith need to be clear what side of history they are on: the side of the oppressors or the side of the oppressed. The side that points a way forward, toward life, or the side that willfully ignores the suffering all around them and the moving train on which they are passive passengers. Continue reading
I doubt I am alone, during this election cycle, in being afraid, being exhausted, being exhausted of being afraid, and also having moments of anger.
When I think about the day after Election Day, I hope to feel relief. If things go the way I hope they will, my fear is that for those of us who feel relief, all of our anxiety and exhaustion will turn into self-righteousness and gloating — if, that is, we have the comfort and safety and ability to go back to living in a world that seems comfortable and safe.
Meanwhile, the inequality and violence that shaped this current election cycle won’t have changed, and the lives of those of us who have always born the brunt of that inequality and violence won’t have changed. If anything, this election cycle has stoked the fires of racism, sexism, classism, and other forms of inequality and violence. Continue reading
Yesterday I did a thing: I launched a new website / blog called Radical Copyeditor. Don’t worry, I’m not abandoning this blog; I’m just creating a different space for voicing thoughts on a particular topic: the concept of using language as a tool for liberation.
My love of copyediting began in the early 2000s during an internship with South End Press, a majority women of color–run book publishing collective that is sadly now defunct. The amazing women I got to work with there helped me understand not only that I had a gift for copyediting, but also that publishing could be a form of activism. Since then I have endeavored to use my nerdy word powers to create positive change in the world. Continue reading
I don’t always know how to express where my calling to do transformational change work comes from. I don’t always know how to give voice to what motivates me to not only act in solidarity but keep showing up and even on some level pay a cost for showing up. What won’t allow me to be quiet, what won’t allow me to get quiet to get along.
But when I think about where my sense of solidarity comes from there is one particular moment from my life that I go back to in my consciousness, one moment I revisit in order to understand even a little bit what my black and brown friends and communities of color in general experience in the world, what #BlackLivesMatter is really about. If you have never encountered cold, impersonal hate, then I don’t think you can understand both the paralyzing fear that it creates, and how alone the system leaves you feeling—the profound sense of isolation that comes with meeting hate like that. I have encountered it, and it’s a moment in a lifetime of such moments that I will never forget. Continue reading
I was raised Roman Catholic at the tail end of an era of seeing priests as infallible, as inherently good. It was unthinkable to question a priest’s motives or moral authority even if my own survival depended on it.
In the article “Ex-Cop to Americans, ‘I’m a Black Ex-Cop, and this is the Real Truth About Race and Policing’” Jay Syrmopoulos mentions a recent Gallup poll where Americans rank police in a list of top five ethical professions which also ironically includes clergy. The irony feels meaningful.
Do I think that a majority of priests sexually abuse children? Heck no. I believe an overwhelming majority answer the call to the priesthood to do good work. A very small minority of priests actively hurt children, but—and this is a big but—the system protected that small minority in such profound ways that it forever altered the system for the worse until it became impossible to see any good. For the Catholic Church to harbor the insidious evil that it did and to do the damage that it did, it required good priests and non-clergy to ignore the un-ignorable over centuries. Continue reading
I was five years old when I was taught the myth of Thanksgiving. I remember the “Pilgrim hats” and “Indian headdresses” made out of construction paper. I remember drawing turkeys using the outline of my hand.
I remember a story that Christopher Columbus discovered America and proved the Earth was round and then the Pilgrims arrived and met the Indians. Life was hard for the Pilgrims and the Indians helped them survive. They celebrated their friendship with a big feast, and ever since we give thanks for the founding of our country by celebrating Thanksgiving.
It was a long time before I put two and two together and realized there were 130 years in that story of my country’s origin that were plumb unaccounted for. I wasn’t taught about the invasion of America and the enslavement, infection, and genocide of her peoples. Continue reading
Categories: Activism, Reverance
Tags: Alex Kapitan, Christopher Columbus, genocide, Greenfield, grief, Indians, indigenous, Mohawk Trail, Native American, oppression, Pequot, Pilgrims, Pocumtuc, Thanksgiving, trauma, Wampanoag, Wissatinnewag
My name is Alex, and I am white. And for two days a part of me wanted to avoid social media so that I could avoid the heartbreak of another young black man shot to death. Feeling guilty about that desire, I was then tempted to post the first good article on the topic I saw and walk away, not thinking about it anymore. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t because it would be too easy for me to shut my eyes and ignore the pain, not wanting to take on the heartbreak today. I couldn’t because the ease with which I could post someone else’s words about racism felt like a disservice to how horrific the impacts truly are.
It would be easy because of my race. I have the privileged choice to not have to think about Michael Brown and not have his face haunt me, infect me with worry for myself, my spouse, or my children. I have the privilege to be able to avoid the heartbreak. Continue reading
Tags: Alex Kapitan, anti-racism, love, Michael Brown, oppression, police brutality, privilege, racial justice, racial profiling, racism, violence, white supremacy
This sermon was delivered at First Church Unitarian in Littleton, MA, on April 13, 2014.
I want to come out to you about something, and that’s this: I am not an advocate for equality.
That might sound a bit odd, and it is a bit odd, because it’s not that I don’t think all beings are equally divine and have equal worth and dignity. And I can assure you that I don’t think there should be undercastes and overclasses of people in this culture and in this world.
But I am not an advocate for equality. I am not an advocate for the way that we have come to talk about equality, the way that the United States mainstream culture has started to define equality.
On June 26, 2013, a sea of red equal signs took over social media like a tide. Do you remember that? Those equal signs, the logo of the Human Rights Campaign, this country’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender political lobbying organization, have become strategically synonymous with the concept of LGBT equality. And on June 26, as the Supreme Court was ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act, the message was clear: marriage equality equals LGBT equality.
But what is this equality? Continue reading
Categories: Activism, Faith, Identity
Tags: Alex Kapitan, beloved community, civil rights movement, Defense of Marriage Act, diversity, divine, DOMA, equality, faith, family, freedom, Freedom Movement, Freedom Summer, gay liberation, God, HRC, Human Rights Campaign, LGBT, LGBT equality, liberation, March on Washington, Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley, marriage, marriage equality, Martin Luther King, MLK, oppression, pie, spirituality, Unitarian Universalism, women's liberation
You might think that nerdy grammar geek / copyeditor and radical anti-oppression activist wouldn’t necessarily be a combination that could uniquely change the world, but you would be wrong. With these powers combined, many things are possible, including amazing flowcharts!
It has long been a pet peeve of mine (wearing both my copyeditor hat and my anti-oppression hat), that the word diverse is widely misused in the English language. Diverse is defined by my favorite dictionary, Merriam-Webster, as (1) differing from one another and (2) composed of distinct or unlike elements or qualities. Unfortunately, the word gets used to refer to people or things that differ not from one another, but from what is considered to be dominant or the cultural norm.
If you follow this to the root, what it’s based in is the idea that there is a neutral, majority, dominant way of being, and that diversity is the addition of non-normative elements to that normative environment. This is a falsehood. The truth is that diversity is what humanity inherently contains—we all differ from one another. The idea that there is such a thing as “normal” or “neutral” creates a lie that there is a universal white experience, or a universal straight experience, a universal able-bodied experience, or a universal experience among any group of people that shares one aspect of identity or background.
So it may seem like a small act to use the word diverse in a manner that is true to its definition, but it’s a small act with big ripple effects when you refuse to buy into a system that teaches us what “normative” is and then defines everything else as Other. Diverse is not Other. Diverse describes the collective beauty of humanity.